HOW DID THIS NOT PUBLISH AUTOMATICALLY??? I had just gotten out of the habit of obsessively checking first thing in the morning to see if my blog posted. Turns out, my trust in blogger was ill-founded. I'm sorry to anyone who checked this earlier. And I'm sorry to myself for staying up late and missing a movie to type this:).
OT: 1 Sam. 10:1-11:15
In today's reading, Saul becomes king, and God continues to "interfere" with free will.
I was intrigued by Samuel's prophecy to Saul in 10:6: "The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power...and you will be changed into a different person." Fascinating! What does that mean? From what I can tell, the fulfillment of that particular prophecy came three verses later when "God changed Saul's heart." And later, the text speaks of the "valiant men whose hearts God had touched" (10:26). I am intrigued by all of these verses for two reasons. First, like I said in my opening sentence, it addresses yet again this concept of free will verses God's control. And honestly, I'm beginning to realize that I am probably setting up a false dichotomy when I pit those two ideas against each other. As we have seen already, and as we will see again in today's NT passage, the idea that it is God who enables us to come to Him is nothing if not scriptural. And yet, the idea that God desires all people to come to Him is also scriptural. I believe that our NT passage will shed some light on that. All in good time, though:).
Secondly, I like these verses because they serve as an OT prototype to the concept of transformation which is so prevalent in the NT, especially with Paul. I am drawn to the idea of being changed into a "different person" through God's Spirit. And I do picture myself governed by my selfish desires and myself governed by the Spirit's desires as two separate people.
Moving on. Can I just say that I really like Saul here? I like his unassuming nature. I like that he didn't tell his uncle about the kingship (10:16), even though that could have been out of cowardice. I even like that he was hiding among the luggage, even though that surely was cowardice. I like those things because they are very Frodo Baggins of Saul. The kingship should probably be given to someone who truly doesn't want it. And Saul definitely doesn't seem power-hungry here. Of course, like the ring (wow, I'm a nerd), the kingship is incredibly corrupting, and it will definitely overcome Saul later, but for now, he is A-OK. I also love that he doesn't speak out against those who scorned him (10:27), and that he unpretentiously returns to his plowing (11:5). And all of those characteristics make me also like Saul's transformation into a righteous warrior. See, I have read enough compelling books/arguments on "just war" to turn me from pacifism, but the bottom line is, I still don't trust violence when it comes from violent men. Like power, violence is a corrupting force, and it should truly only be used as a last resort. Saul was not a violent man, and so I am quite confident that this righteous anger came fully from God's Spirit (plus, the text tells me so in 11:6). And I especially love how, unlike Gideon, Saul can deal in God's violence without being overcome by the lust for it. I feel that when he returned from battle and enacted cruel vengeance on those who didn't help him, Gideon gave into bloodlust. That's just my interpretation, of course, but his actions seemed way over the top. And in the thrill of bloody victory, Saul's own men clamor for more blood, this time from those who earlier questioned Saul. Unlike Gideon, Saul does not give in: "But Saul said, 'No one shall be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel" (11:13). Good call, brother:).
NT: John 6:43-71
Jesus opens in this passage with some more insight into the idea of predestination. First He says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day" (44). Another point for predestination. The very next verse, however, says, "It is written in the Prophets, 'They will all be taught by God'" (45). Those two verses in conjunction at least open the door to the idea that all men are drawn by God (except, I guess, those men who are what my childhood preacher calls "special cases," like Pharoah and Judas). Excluding those rare "special cases" where God used specific people to enact huge plans, you could ostensibly argue that God draws all men to Him, and it is our choice whether to accept it (though God ultimately knows what we will choose). So...maybe predestination v. free will is a false dichotomy? I don't know. From my vague memories of Romans, I think that Paul might smash my house of cards here, but we will see.
Hmmm...but what about Eli's sons? God seemed to prevent them from repenting. Hmmm...I might be back to square one. Oh well, moving on:).
One of my high school "discoveries" was John 6:68, which remains one of my all time favorite verses to this day. It comes after Jesus says some really bizarre things about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, which we Protestants tend to take as figurative, but Catholics take as literal. Anyway, Jesus' disciples took it as literal, too, and were seriously turned off by those words. In fact, "many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (66). Jesus simply watches them go and then turns to His disciples and says, "You do not want to leave, too, do you?" I like how Jesus does not defend Himself or clarify anything. He simply opens the door for them to walk out. And I love Peter's words: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (68).
Our retreat speaker this weekend talked about these words, and he made an interesting point. He said that we think of "eternal" in terms of length of life, but that Jesus meant eternal in terms of depth of life. I'm not sure if he was relying on the Greek for that interpretation, but honestly, that's my interpretation of the passage. See, to be totally honest, I'm not a Christian just so I can go to heaven. Frankly, for most of my life, the idea of heaven terrified me. To my feeble mind, the idea of eternity in terms of sheer length was horrifying. I still can't grasp it, and I have stopped trying, for my own sanity. It's hard to put into words, but if I had to put it succinctly, I would say, "I don't want to live forever. I want to live." I want life, real life. I want to experience the fullness of my existence, and, like Peter, I believe that God has the key to that. Thus, I want to be with Him very badly, and my interpretation of how to do that is to empty myself, and fill "me" with Him. And when I have His Spirit in me, I love. To be with God is to love. And I want to understand the depths of God's love and to play my role in bringing His kingdom. Heaven is appealing to me, of course, but not necessarily the eternal aspect of it (again, it's not like I want to be destroyed; I just can't grasp what eternity even looks like). Instead, heaven is appealing to me b/c it makes everything right on earth. It brings the Kingdom in its fullness. It stops the suffering. And it unites us with God. And I long for all of those things. I don't love because it will get me to heaven. I love because I want to be what I was designed to be. And with that outlook, where else can I go? Only God has the words that fulfill my identity, that bring hope and true life.
Psalm 107: 1-43
Okay, I have mentioned before how much it annoys me when people carp on the simplicity of modern praise songs. However, I can kind of see their point when I read this psalm. Yes, we have a catchy song based on the first verse. But here's the thing: our version ends at verse 1. The Biblical version goes on for 42 more verses. There is definitely a fullness and depth there that is missing in the version we sing.
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (1). That is one of the most classic proverbs in my mind, and it is so, so true. I am reading a great biography on Ben Franklin right now, and he worked at perfecting this art, with great success.